WASHINGTON, March 20 U.S. regulators on
Wednesday proposed new rules for telecommunications firms to
strengthen their 911 emergency systems in response to what the
agency said were "avoidable" outages during a freak windstorm in
The unpredictable windstorm, known as a derecho, last year
knocked out emergency services and caused major breakdowns that
affected millions of people in six states, leaving many 911
calls unanswered as 77 emergency response call centers lost some
degree of service and 17 went completely off-line.
The Federal Communication Commission's follow-up analysis
found that disruptions were caused by "avoidable planning and
system failures, including the lack of functional backup power"
and insufficient audits.
The FCC voted unanimously on Wednesday to propose rules that
would require phone companies to do better audits of 911
circuits, more promptly notify emergency workers when the
network is down, ensure backup power for the main offices, and
complete regular and more complete maintenance and testing.
The regulators now will collect comments on the new rules,
seeking particularly to mitigate any concerns about the costs of
adopting the procedures and thoughts on possibly adding a
so-called "sunset provision" for when the rules would expire to
avoid having outdated regulations on the books.
In the report on 911 outages during the summer derecho, FCC
researchers noted that while the windstorm knocked out emergency
services in isolated areas of four states, it caused especially
serious breakdowns in northern Virginia and West Virginia.
Verizon Communications Inc provides 911 service in
Virginia, and Frontier Communications Corp is the
service provider in West Virginia.
Similarly, major disruptions affected people later in 2012
when Superstorm Sandy smashed into New York and New Jersey in
late October, and the FCC has held hearings where they urged
improvements to stability of telecom firms' 911 services.
"Our policy has to be zero tolerance for outages," FCC
Chairman Julius Genachowski said on Wednesday.